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High Court Rules Against Lawyer Seeking Compensation for Ex Supreme Court Chief Justice Onnoghen

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A Federal High Court in Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a lawyer seeking a N130 million compensation from the Buhari administration and the Nigerian Immigration Service, for violating the rights of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria’s Supreme Court, Walter Onnoghen.

The presiding Judge Justice Taiwo Taiwo ruled that the lawyer Dr N.S Nwawka had no locus standi as he filed the suit without Justice Onnoghen’s permission. Mr Onnoghen, once Nigeria’s most senior judge made national headlines when he was removed from office after being accused of making false declarations to the Code of Conduct Bureau. His passport was seized and he was barred from leaving the country.

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In his October 12 ruling, the Mr Taiwo said: “I have looked at the originating processes filed by the applicant herein, with due respect to him, I do not see any nexus between him and the respondents jointly or severally.

“I do not see his remote or immediate interest in the matter in which he has not been instructed to file by the former Chief Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I pose a question to him and this is whether the Former Chief Justice of Nigeria has told him that he is incapable of fighting his own battle or that he is even ready for any battle against anybody?”

Justice Taiwo also declined to grant Nwawka leave to apply for a referral of some “constitutional questions to the Court of Appeal” for determination.

Judge Taiwo ruled that: “The applicant’s motion is incompetent as it is and I therefore dismiss same. Mr Nwawka, who appeared in person, filed the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/16/2020 on January 7, 2020. He had declared at the hearing of the substantive case on July 15, 2020 that Immigration officers stationed at an international airport stopped Mr Onnoghen from travelling to Ghana and confiscated his international passport without any prior order of a court of competent jurisdiction. Mr Nwawka had also alleged that the Federal Government has refused to pay Onnoghen his terminal benefits.

Mr Nwawka said he approached the court as a concerned citizen to enforce Mr Onnoghen’s fundamental rights to travel in and out of Nigeria unhindered and rights to freedom from inhuman, humiliating and degrading treatment. In addition to the N130million he sought as as general and exemplary damages, he also asked the court to direct the respondents to immediately release Onnoghen’s international passport Number A50445233 confiscated since November 11, 2019, and to issue a perpetual injunction restraining the respondents from stopping him from foreign travel.

Habiba U. Chime who represented the federal government opposed Mr Nwawka, on the grounds that he did not disclose how his legal rights were affected by the actions of the government.

She further argued that the applicant did not disclose any legal or equitable interest of his that was infringed upon. Ms Chime also argued that it was wrong to start the suit at the High Court.

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